The story below is an excerpt from our November/December 2016 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, log in to read our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app. Thank you!
Much of the magic of the hike is, of course, the lure of the hundred tiny details that in other, non-walking, non-forest contexts, would likely not be attended to: the call of the cardinal, the lay of the moss, the squawroot poking through the floor near the oak, the look of those endless ridges on a clear day, watching that shower come across the valley toward your summit-perch lunch spot, and on and on.
There was a new one a few weeks back for The Day Hiker and me, on the loop at Harkening Hill near Peaks of Otter along the Virginia Blue Ridge Parkway. This was a nearly clear, hot summer day, and we took nothing along for the possibility of a shower—a mistake we make too often, but with projected percentages of zero, 5 and 10 for the day, one that we didn’t seem to be making on that day.
Near the end of the climb of the 3,371-foot peak—the shortest of the three distinctive peaks at the Peaks—as we were talking to (well, listening to) an older European man we crossed on the trail and who seemed magically unaffected by the heat in his clean, pressed white shirt, there came a deep and sustained rumble of thunder. The old man stopped his monologue (on the topics of this particular forest as well as one in Pennsylvania), to say that the call of the sky was not for him, and he hoped not for us.
A few moments later, the shower rolled in from the south, with more thunder and the high-in-the-leaves sound of rain.
We walked the mile or so between those first drops and the open land of the Johnson Farm under that sound—a mild to moderate shower that did not slow as we walked. And in a proof of canopy we’d never experienced before, the leaves—beginning at completely dry and holding what each could before surrendering drops below to the next and then the next and the next—kept us almost completely dry as we walked.
And well, if you asked The Day Hiker about trail magic on that day, yes, she’d mention the tree protection, but also another aspect, which is more particular to where we were walking: Our lunches, usually carried on our backs with the (also magic) Ice Mule bag, are fairly rudimentary, and taken on a rock.
Which is a good and enjoyable thing, of course, but in the view of The Day Hiker, not as enjoyable after all these years of rock-top salads and crackers and such as sitting at a table looking out on a lake as the kindly Delaware North staff brings you a bottle of wine and a pretty good hot lunch.
And in fact, on the day of the leaf umbrella, the Peaks of Otter Lodge did seem to offer a bit of minor, only-in-context magic as well: The sound from the nearby room brought traditional songs softly into our lunch, sung by a woman accompanying herself on an autoharp. Rebecca Bryant sounds, at least from the other room, like the ghost of John Denver.
Plus the other-era lodge dining and lobby area itself, full of mostly friendly other-era people can transport you to simpler times and simpler things. Like the tall trees of the forest keeping you dry under a summer shower.